You like beer. Bars and breweries like your money. These mischievous institutions are constantly devising creative ways to convince you to give them your money in exchange for beer. Many people call these things “events.” There are a lot of them. Possibly too many. Which ones are worth your time, hangover, and hard-earned, disposable income? That’s a great question.
Welcome to Draft Picks, the column where BYT picks the month’s ten – err, nine best beer events.
Why nine? Because I couldn’t find a tenth. What’s the criteria? Enough with the questions.
But before we bite into these succulent beer events, a few notes…
First, SAVOR is June 1 and 2, which means the last few days of May are going to swamped with amazing beer events. Those events have not been announced yet. Fear not: I’ll be back with a SAVOR Week preview the week before.
Second, have you been you keeping up on all this #dank, #juicy, #hoppy BYT beer content? Because I have been going hard in the paint. Don’t sleep on Brites of Spring: The D.C. Area’s Best Warm Weather Beers, Freshly Tapped: Bluejacket & Ocelot’s Mixed Up / Torn Down, and Freshly Tapped: 808’s & The 3 Stars Car Series.
OK, let’s do it.
When: Saturday, May 5
Where: Old Ox Brewing
If you brew a margarita gose, you pretty much have a moral obligation to release it on Cinco De Mayo. Thankfully, the good folks at Old Ox are god-fearing people, and on May 5, they will bestow the bounty of a margarita gose release party upon us.
First brewed for an anniversary shindig a few years ago, this entry in the brewery’s Funky Face series is made with tart lime juice, sweet orange peel, lactose, and sea salt. So far, so margarita.
It’ll also be the inaugural Funky Face beer be packaged in 16oz cans, which makes it more friendly for #stoopmargs personal consumption.
Looking to wow other attendees with your knowledge of Old Ox? Revisit my Freshly Tapped profiles of Old Ox’s Funky Face: Mango Sour and its National Cherry Blossom FestivALE, which also respectively tell the stories of founder Chris Burn and Head Brewer Allison Lange.
When: Saturday, May 5
Where: Oliver Brewing
It wasn’t too long ago that you had a pretty good idea what to expect from a new Oliver Brewing offering. Head Brewer Steve Jones and his team were the English-style ale guys. Bitters, strong ales, milds, stouts, brown ales, pale ales, barleywines – these were their specialties. But over the past year and half, things have been getting decidedly weirder on Shannon Drive (where the brewery relocated from Pratt Street Ale House in 2015).
Launched in October 2016, the brewery’s “Long Live Rock & Roll Series” has thus far given us nine “volumes” of wonderfully hop-forward, modern American double IPAs. Separately, since late last summer, Jones has also been dabbling in kettle-soured ales, including the mesquite honey-spiked Charm City collab Love At First Sting and a zippy little sour IPA with Stillwater called Trendstter. And speaking of Stillwater (who brewed its first production beer at Oliver back in the day), Brian Strumke has been working with Jones (who has a great Instagram account) on a series of Whipped beers packaged with nitro that activates upon shaking.
First came a chocolate and vanilla stout, then a double IPA (with mango, vanilla, and lactose), and now we have Whipped Raspberry Sour, which is… yeah, exactly what it sounds like. It’s a kettle sour brewed with “copious amounts of raspberry, lactose, flaked wheat, and flaked oats,” and then dry hopped with Citra and Mosaic. This is a Whipped I can get behind.
The 5.0% brew will be released at the brewery this Saturday as part of a triple can drop. The other offerings, meanwhile, continue to illustrate my point about the creativity popping off up in Baltimore. One is Chasing Rainbows, a sour IPA brewed with lactose and fermented with pureed blueberries. Think: sweet and sour. The other is Burial at Sea, a nitro Ruby Mild brewed with DC Brau. According to Oliver, it’s brewed a grist of Marris Otter, dark crystal, and flaked oats; gently bittered with Challenger and finished with Fuggle and East Kent Goldings whole leaf hops; and open fermented using Ringwood Ale yeast.
Score all three of these beers at the brewery this weekend. Or maybe – just hypothetically speaking here – your name is Diana, and you’re the beer buyer for a prestigious Northwest D.C. bottle shop, in which case you should definitely order these beers and make dreams come true for your top customer. I think his name is Bill or something.
When: May 9
Where: The Sovereign
As Justin Timberlake once told a young Mark Zuckberberg: “You know what’s cool? Coolships.” And he was right. Coolships are cool.
For the uninitiated, a coolship is a wide, shallow, open fermentation vessel. As the Sovereign notes, it basically looks like a giant brownie pan. Here’s how a coolship works: Brewers add hot wort (ie, hopped sugar water) to the pan, and then leave the liquid uncovered over night, during which time it’s inoculated “spontaneously” with microflora (ie, wild yeast and bacteria) occurring naturally in the air. In the morning, after these “bugs” have gotten into the beer, the liquid is transferred and allowed to age for an extended period of time, often in oak barrels. Most notably, this how OG Belgian producers made Lambics historically.
Back here in the States, though, no one was really messing with coolships (during the modern craft beer renaissance, at least) before Allagash installed its own coolship in 2007. But since then – especially in the last two or three years – more and more U.S. breweries have been getting in the coolship game, and certain European-based breweries, like Mikkeller, are making their coolship beers readily available in the DMV. Still, not much of Allagash’s coolship beer makes it to D.C. because, well, not much is produced. Sadly, most coolship releases remain brewery exclusives.
Thankfully, we have Neighborhood Restaurant Group Beer Director Greg Engert, aka Tha Plug, aka Slim Necktie, aka Lil’ Cant E. Yon, aka Young Cuvée, aka Everybody Gertz. Mr. Engert and the NRG team have lined up a night of #rare Allagash coolship beers (and some regular ol’ delicious Allagash offerings) at The Sovereign on May 9. The main attraction will be Coolship Red, a Framboise Lambic-inspired ale fermented in the Allagash coolship, then aged for over two years in French oak wine barrels, then conditioned on Maine-grown raspberries for an additional four to five months. Fuck yes.
The Sovereign will also be pouring Belfius, a blend of oak-aged coolship beer and Allagash’s house Saison. Allagash very kindly sent me a sample of this guy (NBD), and I am happy to report that it is not only fantastic in a vacuum – dry, tart, fruity – it’s also an excellent springboard into the world of coolship beers, where the flavors can be a little… pungent. (Bottles of Belfius can be found in the D.C market if you can’t make the event.)
Anyway, The Sovereign will also be serving Saison Gratis (a rustic farmhouse ale dry-hopped in the coolship, then open fermented with Saison yeast), Shiro’s Delight (a sour brown ale aged in oak barrels and conditioned on plums and pluerries), and Astrid (an Aquavit barrel-aged Brett saison), among many others. As per usual for NRG events, it’s all you can drink for all you can pay. Tasters available for you sippers. Act now.
When: Saturday, May 12
Where: Old Bust Head Brewing
What do you call it when 450 pounds of cheese and 32-and-a-half barrels of beers collide in pastoral Fauquier County? You call it Bleu & Brew. Because it’s catchy. And it rhymes. And it’s an accurate representation of the aforementioned collision.
Yes, for the third year (and for the first time in the spring), Old Bust Head Brewing is set to throw its righteous celebration of beer and cheese. The brewery has lined up 19 different cheeses from five countries, and it’s paired them with brews from 22 independent Virginia breweries. Actually, that isn’t entirely true: Old Bust Head hosted most of the participating breweries and fromagers at the brewery earlier this year, and then let them choose the best pairings themselves, which sounds like a speed dating event plucked directly from my fantasies.
Participating breweries (who are each bringing two beers) include some of your very favorites (and the subjects of recent journalistic explorations right here on BYT): Port City, Ocelot, Old Ox, Crooked Run, and Solace, among many more. (The sold-out VIP section also features The Answer and Pen Druid – you snooze, you lose.) $45 gets you unlimited cheese and beer. I repeat: unlimited cheese and beer. Solid deal. There is also a $12 designated driver option, so call up Ted from accounting – he loves cheese and hates beer.
On the real, I spent this past Saturday at Old Bust Head – working on forthcoming Freshly Tapped profile of the brewery’s fruited witbier Table Talk – and it is a beautiful space staffed with wonderful people, so I recommend making this journey. To make your life easier, they will even be running a $30 roundtrip shuttle from the Vienna Metro station, which is quite thoughtful and way cheaper than Ubers.
When: Saturday, May 12
Pizzeria Paradiso Executive Beverage Director Drew McCormick is fond of noting that there’s a beer for every occasion. Now, she has a beer festival for every season. It’s called Thatsa Spicy Pilsner! Fest.
Wait, sorry, it’s called Pizzeria Paradiso’s Four Seasons Beer Festivals. That makes more sense.
Here’s something else that makes sense: There are four Pizzeria Paradiso locations, and there are four seasons, so each location will get to hold one of the festivals. First up is Hyattesville, the newest member of Ruth Gresser’s pizza empire. On the afternoon of May 12, this Maryland establishment will be the location of Spring Fest.
What can you expect? Clowns. Hundreds of clowns. Happy clowns, sad clowns, mischievous clowns.
No, you know what you can expect: beer and pizza. On the former front, McCormick has rounded up a bang-up collection of DMV breweries, including Diamondback, Right Proper, RaR, Charm City Meadworks (fun fact: co-founder Andrew Geffken lives just down the street), UNION Craft, and Denizens. Of particular note, Hyatesville’s forthcoming Streetcar 82 Brewing will be offering a sneak peak of its brews.
Admission is $20 in advance (or $25 at the door), and it covers three 6oz pours. (Side note: six ounces is the appropriate festival pour.) Or you can spring (sorry) (not sorry) for the $50 option, which gets you a souvenir glass that you will cherish forever and unlimited 6-oz pours. Um, option two seems like the play.
Shit, I buried the lede: All proceeds from Spring Fest will benefit the local Hyattsville nonprofit ArtWorks Now. Yes, all of this is for charity. Do something meaningful with your life.
There will also be live music, “local vendors,” and lawn games. Everyone loves lawn games.
When: Friday, May 18
Where: Port City Brewing
Normally, this is the point in Draft Picks where I tell you about the latest Port City Lager Series release. That’s because the Port City Lager Series is an official sponsor of Draft Picks.
Correction: Draft Picks is an unofficial sponsor of the Port City Lager Series. Because that’s where my money goes. It goes to Port City lagers.
But this month we’re going to Flip The Script™. That’s right: It’s time for a new Port City ale. Air horn, air horn, air hoooorn. Top-fermenting yeast in the building!!!
The beer is called Ideaal, which is not a typo. It’s Flemish, you uncultured piece of garbage. And now it’s a Belgian-style Tripel.
“We spent a lot of time brainstorming a name for the Tripel when our tasting room manager [Tim Quintyn] came up with the idea for ‘Ideaal’, the Flemish term for optimal or quintessential,” Port City Manager of Marketing and Beer Strategy Chris Van Orden told me in January. “Tim is Belgian, so it seemed fitting that the Tripel be named by someone with roots in the region that produced the style.”
Ideaal weighs in at 8.5% and will be available in six-packs. Per the eloquent prose of Port City’s press release, it’s a “golden-hued abbey ale with a dense cap of mousse-like foam. Subtly sweet pilsner malt and herbaceous noble hops leave room for expressive Belgian yeast character to shine. In the glass, fruity esters and peppery phenols mingle with a floral-herbal hop aroma, setting the stage for a deceptively dry body.”
Sign me up for that flavor orgy. But, also, hold on, I have more quotes. Back in January, Van Orden elaborated on the motivation behind the release.
“That’s a beer the market came to us on,” he shared. “The sales guys have been asked about getting a bigger Belgian from us for a while. Optimal Wit is our biggest-selling beer, and we don’t have another year-round Belgian. We don’t really want to do a saison, because we have Wit, and there are so many types of saisons out there. We thought about a Belgian Strong Golden Ale, like a Duvel-style beer, but that didn’t make sense given our yeast. So, we landed on Tripel, and a couple brewers had been sitting on recipes for one. It was one of those situations where all the pieces came together.”
Ideaal will be released at the brewery on Friday, May 18. Granville Moore’s will host the DC release on May 23.
When: Saturday, May 19
Where: Mad Fox Brewing
Mad Fox Brewing loves a good festival. Spring Bock Festival. Barleywine Festival. Cask Ale Festival. All these guys do is organize festivals.
On May 19, the Fall Church brewery welcomes a new festival baby into the world: the inaugural Sour Mania! As you might guess from the name, it is a showcase of all things tart: Berliner weisses, goses, barrel-fermented sour ales, and so on.
The outdoor event will feature at least 15 such beers, all “special and limited edition,” from across the country. Check the the ticket options in the link above.
When: Thursday, May 24
Where: Owen’s Ordinary
There are brewers who make kettle sours, and then there is Kevin Blodger. UNION Craft’s Head Brewer is the kettle sour master. No around here unlocks the flavors that he does.
The marquee example of his mastery is Old Pro. UNION’s summer seasonal is technically a gose, but I often find myself pausing to remember that because Old Pro transcends style classifications. Old Pro is Old Pro – bright, light, refreshing, a little salty, perfect.
Warm weather is back, which means that Old Pro is back, and Baltimore brewery is celebrating at Owen’s Ordinary on May 24 with a 3-hole putt-putt course. The stakes are real, too: Get a hole-in-one and your first Union beer is on the brewery.
You may suffer a panic attack when it comes time to choose that beer, though, because UNION is rolling deep. For starters, Owen’s Ordinary will be pouring three white wine barrel-aged Older Pro variants – gin, cherry, and pomegranate. The North Bethesda watering hole has also scored the last three years of UNION’s anniversary fruited kettle sours: Fraggle Rock (infused with strawberry and rhubarb), Pink Flamingo (finished with pink grapefruit and ginger), and 3rd Stone (conditioned on apricots).
In the non-sour department, I’m ordering Change Order (the brewery’s new Citra and Mosaic IPA), Parkway (a rustic, pale saison brewed for Allagash Saison Day), and the year-round pilsner Skipjack (this is my fight song; my I-like-beer song).
When: Thursday, May 31
Where: Ocelot Brewing
In BYT’s 2017: The Beer in Review, Ocelot founder Adrien Widman cited a particular batch of Hill Farmstead’s Double Citra – a double IPA hopped exclusively with Citra – as his favorite “out-of-town” beer.
“I’ve had plenty of Hill Farmstead beers over the years, but for some reason this batch really blew me away,” he wrote. “It actually made me question the things we do here at Ocelot and inspired us to continue evolving.”
In December’s Freshly Tapped profile of Ocelot’s Hope, I wrote about some of the ways that evolution has manifested in Ocelot’s IPAs: high-protein grists, English ale yeasts, aggressive alterations to water chemistry. Of course, these characteristics aren’t true for all Ocelot IPAs. To wit: Last month, the brewery released Gorgeous & Alone (a clean, dry IPA brewed with pilsner and English pale malts) and Mi Corozan (a hazy IPA that’s the closest Ocelot comes to joooooice), and those beers are light years apart.
On May 31, Ocelot will release a beer that probably falls closer to the latter. It’s called Lucky You. It’s brewed with pilsen malt, flakes oats, and malted oats. It’s fermented with Ocelot’s secret, English-leaning House Ale 3 yeast. Oh, and did I mention that after over a hundred IPAs, it’s the first Ocelot double IPA brewed exclusively with Citra. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Ocelot made its Double Citra. (Side note: Widman has not said this.) (Side note to the side note: I DON’T CARE, I’M SAYING IT.)
Cans of the beer will be available at the brewery on May 31. Like all Ocelot cans, that’s the only place they’ll be available.
That’s not all, though. Come for the Citra double IPA, stay for the new lager, because May 31 also brings us Olé, a 5.2% pilsner brewed in celebration of the World Cup. Doesn’t Ocelot already have arguably one of the best pilsners in the country, Sunnyside Dweller? Yes, but one pilsner is not enough. In fact, Widman has told me the brewery wants to have two pilsners on at all times going forward. Moar pilsner.
Olé was brewed was brewed pilsen malt and Briess GoldPils, the latter of which should lend the beer a slightly more orange hue than Sunnyside. It’s hopped with the new school German varietal Saphir and Michigan-grown Grungeist, though Widman says they’re there more to compliment the beer than jump out.
The unveiling of Lucky You and Olé will be preceded this month with the can releases of three Ocelot IPAs: Two Lost Souls (May 9), Live Wire (May 16), and Space Cadet (May 23). My fridge awaits.